I am very excited to share with you my passion project and this year’s list of 50 Best Burgers in Portland. It’s been a long but worthwhile project, spanning 10 months and over 100 burgers. To usher in the proper reverence, let’s consider my favorite burger quote from my friend the esteemed, late food writer Josh Ozersky: “The burger is omnipotent and irresistible . . . it can never be weakened, it can never be slowed down, it can never stop. The burger is the most single powerful force in the food universe.” Indeed.
The process of burger categorization and ranking is not hard science. Naming Portland’s best burgers is necessarily subjective and trying to define and label burgers can get somewhat unruly, but I have tried my best to taste all of the great Portland burgers I’ve either read about or that have been recommended to me. I did not include places outside Portland proper, nor any chains.
Related Video: Best Burger in Portland
1. Trifecta Tavern: No Veggie in Sight (Closing Jan 1st, 2020)
Soon after visiting Trifecta Tavern I noticed a trend of this style of burger everywhere — the double patty, saucey, nearly no vedge burger. I am notoriously late to parties so I have no idea when this burger type was born or started to propogate in Portland. Trifecta’s burger is at the top of my list because the meat had a nice, semi-loose grind, it arrived screaming hot, it gave off puddles of juice, it had no vegetal elements to compete with the flavor of the beef, the brioche bun was freshly baked and therefore not dry or too light like most brioche buns, and the cheesy pimento sauce was outstandingly flavorful and generously applied. I would return again and again to Trifecta Tavern for this burger.
2. Burger Stevens: Best Will Travel for Burger
I’m still thinking about my Burger Stevens burger. I am a big fan of the self-employed chef who’s broken from corporate restaurant tethers and out there pounding the pavement to follow a passion and a calling, so when I read about chef Don Salamone, who’s done his time with Michelin-starred restaurants, and his wife Kate opening up Burger Stevens in a little blue food truck in a pod on the corner of Wilson High School in Hillsdale, I knew I had to make a visit.
This burger took a while, but was well worth it. A classic old-school burger, cooked on a flat top griddle with a nice firm crust and wrapped in a paper package, Burger Stevens’ burger was a study in perfect construction: thin burger, crisp lettuce, tomato, raw onion, special sauce and from there you can add bacon, avocado, fried egg, jalapeno and and extra patty.
3. Stanich’s: Best Piece of Portland History
It was my good luck that in 2017 a very noteworthy burger scholar came forth with his article, The 100 Best Burgers in America, after eating 330 burgers in 365 days, and his No. 1 Burger was none other than Portland’s own Stanich’s. The day the article was published I left work, hightailed to Stanich’s, and not surprisingly was greeted with a line out the door and down the block at 5:15 p.m. The wait would be one hour for food after I was seated, I was told. I could have a seat at the end of the bar, by the (open) front door, in front of the cooktop. No matter, I grabbed it. There was one cook that night. He turned to me and said, “I’m never getting out of here tonight.”
Stanich’s is a piece of Portland history. It’s old, it’s family-owned and it is the opposite of pretentious. There are sports pennants and old photos and memorabilia lining the walls, it’s dark inside, and you can sit comfortably in old leather booths. In another warmly appreciated stroke of luck for me, the cook turned to me and said, “what’d you order?” and then quietly slipped me my Nick’s with fries 5 minutes later. The burger was delicious and on the wet, messy side, which is how I like it. I liked the loose grind of the meat, the special sauce, the shredded lettuce and the sesame bun. I’d definitely put Stanich’s in my regular burger rotation.
4. Woodsman Tavern: (CLOSED) Best Burger and Fries Together Burger
I almost didn’t make it here but my boss’s son, who’s technically also my boss you see, mentioned Woodsman twice as a place I should check out. Now that ultimate bond of trust exists that nothing can disturb, the burger lover’s bond. This was a great, great burger. It’s double cheeseburger made with grass fed AND dry aged beef, shredded iceberg, thinly sliced raw red onion, pickles, sauce, American cheese and fries. It had that primal, stinky aged-meat smell and it arrived nice and hot and dripping wet. Also please note that the fries were spectacular.
5. Expatriate: Best Beguiling in Appearance Burger
Of all the burgers that hit me to the core, Expatriate’s is the only one that wasn’t in the double-patty-saucey-no vedge genre. The moment my plate landed at Expatriate I just sighed . . . . “oh yes.” Just look at them. Each diminutive 1/4 lb. burger is a piece of artwork: perfect in scale, minimalist in garnishes with two phantom white slices of onion, and finished off with those bold contrasting primary colors of red ketchup and yellow mustard. Expatriate is small, dimly lit boozy space that sports an exotic, slightly baroque and mysterious vibe, and they are the only restaurant that I know of that serves the irreplaceable James Beard Onion sandwich. Definitely worth several visits.
6. Bunk at Wonder Ballroom: Best Burger Crust
Bunk Sandwiches is known for their wildly good sandwiches, and when I was nearly at the end of my burger research a special food friend alerted me that Bunk’s Wonder Ballroom location was serving a limited number burgers (that sacred number 12), Thursdays through Sundays only. I am truly grateful for this tip, as this was one of my all time favorite burgers. Double patty, cheddar cheese, shredded lettuce, special sauce with some kind of secret technique or ingredient that produces the most umami, almost crisp, mantle of burger crust. Bunk makes an unforgettable burger, go get one.
7. Headwaters: Best Soak
Headwaters is the restaurant inside one of Portland’s most recognizable historic landmarks, the Heathman Hotel. While you should know that Heathman has a notable library and wonderful contemporary art collection, not to mention the one and only Beefeater Doorman, it’s just as important to know that Headwaters makes a burger for the ages.
Headwaters is helmed by Husband-and-wife team Vitaly and Kimberly Paley who have been pillars of the Portland restaurant world since 1995, when they opened Paley’s Place on NW 21st Avenue (another top burger in my list). Vitaly is a James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef Pacific Northwest award recipient (2005), as well as Semifinalist for Outstanding Chef (2012), and Headwaters is the Paleys’ fourth restaurant in Portland. Let’s talk about one of his burgers.
The Headwaters burger is the only burger with a tomato I’ve not removed onto my plate. Why? It’s an heirloom tomato full of flavor and, commingled with that luscious meat juice, disintegrates the bun into just the right state of nothingness where it barely protects your hands from a real mess. This Top Portland Burger also comes with aged cheddar, roasted onions, remoulade, lettuce, and b&b pickles.
8. Superbite (CLOSED): Outrageous Homemade Bun Burger
Superbite is also home to a James Beard Best Chefs (plural) Northwest award winner (2017): Greg Denton and Gabrielle Quiñónez Denton. They serve a very unique burger in that shiitake mushrooms are mixed into the ground beef, the cheese is a mixture of fontina and cheddar, and the in-house baked bun has a nearly sweetish, fragile crispy laquer to it on top. Add shredded lettuce, fancy sauce and pickles and this is the Superbite burger.
9. American Local (CLOSED): Best Ultimate Saucy Burger
The American Local is a quirky bar & eatery in trendy Southeast Portland slinging out Asian-inspired & modern American comfort food including another one of my favorite Portland burgers. As you can see, American Local’s burger is in that double patty, nearly vedge-less genre I spoke of earlier, but here we have two smaller, thickish patties and a ton of mustard-tinged special sauce.
10. Pollo Bravo: Best Non-Classic Sauce Burger
Pollo Bravo is the younger cousin of Toro Bravo, the wildly popular and distinguished Spanish-esque restaurant, who set up shop in Pine Street Market in 2016. This burger has an addictive romesco sauce, is served with thinly sliced avocado and sprouts and comes on a wonderful black-sesame seeded bun.
11. Country Cat Dinnerhouse: (CLOSED) Best Butcher’s Burger
Adam and Jackie Sappington run this very popular dinnerhouse and bar that focuses on whole animal cookery. It’s nearly impossible to get into Country Cat at brunchtime, but if you slip into the bar and sit at the counter early in the evening, you can get a deeply primal, funky smelling burger in the double-patty vedgeless genre, with housemade bacon, for a great value.
12. Lay Low Tavern: Best No Frills Burger
Lay Low Tavern is an old, dark dive-bar/lounge in the Foster/Powell neighborhood that was recently revamped and re-conceptualized by two modern restaurant renovators. It’s so dark inside Lay Low that you can’t read the menu. You can still smoke on the patio. More importantly, you can get one of Portland’s best, simple burgers here. Meat, lettuce, tomato, raw onion, pickle and cheese, wrapped in paper. Get fries or tater tots for a complete, no-frills, escape-the-crowds dining experience.
13. Grain and Gristle
I love this place so much. It’s a small, neighborhood place for “fine food and libations” on a corner and away from the larger restaurant neighborhoods that are thronging with people at all hours. They have great deviled eggs and boquerones, delicious mussels and a lamb-neck French Dip sandwich, and one of Portland’s best burgers. In fact, this burger is probably in my Top 5. What sets this burger apart for me, besides the quality and flavor of the meat, is the thickish, sturdy, almost burnt crust, which balances well with the bleu cheese and pickles. I go here often and you should too.
14. Pastrami Zombie: Personal Favorite
When a nice, handsome and young man with a kind smile who is the age of your only son, cooks and serves you a delicious burger from a food truck that is on your direct path home on your work commute, you’ve found a personal favorite. Pastrami Zombie is my soft spot burger place, and I’d hedge a bet it will be yours soon, too.
15. Bless Your Heart Burgers: Best Fast Burger
Read all about this fast and fantastic burger here.
16. Paymaster: Best Hipster Burger
Paymaster is a low-key bar in the Northwest neighborhood, with a throwback ambiance and serving pub food including a wonderfully simple burger with cheese, raw chopped onion, lettuce, tomato, and pickle and served with tater tots.
17. Tabor Tavern
Tabor Tavern is another neighborhood (Mt. Tabor) pub with great gastropub fare in a rustic, wood-decked setting, featuring outdoor tables, multiple TVs and a delicious classic style burger with a 1/2 lb patty, shredded lettuce, and Russian dressing on a brioche bun.
18. Helvetia Tavern: Best Burger with a View
This is the burger that pushed my “Portland proper” rule to the rolling country hills of Hillsboro, where I found a delicious, classic style burger nearly the size of a small hubcap. Featuring a giant thin patty, American cheese, dressing, shredded lettuce and pickle, Helvetia Tavern serves one of Portland’s most commonly named best burgers in a lovely farmland-esque setting.
19. Le Pigeon: The French Connection Burger
Le Pigeon home to another James Beard award-winning, pedigreed Portland chef: Gabriel Rucker, who also runs Little Bird Bistro. It’s the only place I know of in Portland where you can get foie gras, beef cheek bourguignon, dry sherry and a burger that riffs off of Wendy’s. There are a very limited number of these square patty burgers per night, and they come with grilled and pickled onions, extra sharp white cheddar, iceberg lettuce, and spicy dijon aioli. This was by far the messiest burger I ate, and very worth it.
20. Mike’s Drive-In: Best Classic Sauce Burger
With a face like this, who can resist a Mike’s Drive-In Burger. This classic-style burger with all the accompaniments and a ton of sauce, is the burger you want after a long run or bike ride, and will send you diving for bed in the hopes of a long nap.
21. Smokehouse Tavern (CLOSED): Best Enhanced Burger
Smokehouse Provisions is where I break my rule regarding “Portland city proper” and hop over the bridge, still within “Portland greater metropolitan area,” to Vancouver, WA, where owner and Executive Chef B.J. Smith dishes out a burger enhanced with smoked bone marrow butter and bacon onion jam. It’s too good of a burger to not include in my list of Portland’s best burgers. You’ll agree.
22. Guero No. 1 Tortas: Best Maximalist Burger
Guero started as a humble food-pod cart and this year moved into a brick and mortar restaurant. Their version of a “Mexican street hamburguesa” comes loaded with a chicharron queso, American cheese, tamarind tomato, habanero coleslaw, guacamole, pickled jalapeno, shredded iceberg and mayo. This is the one maximalist burger even a purist will love.
Meat: Square thin patty, nice crust
Vegetables: Wedge of Iceberg lettuce, raw onion, pickle
Sauce: Classic, on the side
Bun: White, no frills
24. La Moule
Meat: Medium thick patty, juicy PLUS a handlebar moustache of thick bacon
Vegetables: Raw Red Onion
Sauce: Dijon Mustard
Bun: Ken’s Artisan Brioche
25. Cafe Castagna (CLOSED)
Meat: Medium thin patty
Cheese: Cheddar, Pepperjack, Swiss or Blue
Vegetables: Lettuce and pickle, on the side
Sauce: Mayo based
Meat: Thick, juicy angus patty seasoned with lemongrass, ginger, garlic, kaffir lime and fish sauce
Cheese: White Cheddar
Vegetables: Pickled carrots, jalapenos, cilantro
Sauce: Kewpie Mayo and Hoisin
Bun: Pearl Bakery Ciabatta roll
Bonus: Six minute, deep fried egg
27. Yakuza Lounge
Meat: Thick patty
Vegetables: Shoestring potatoes, arugula, shredded carrot
Sauce: Spicy Mayo
28. Laurelhurst Market
Meat: In-house ground beef patty
Cheese: White Cheddar
Vegetables: Jardiniere, Greens
Bun: Ciabatta roll
29. Little Bird Bistro (CLOSED)
Meat: Tighter grind, double patty
Vegetables: Pickled peppers, onion, shredded iceberg
Sauce: Mayo based, semi-classic
Meat: Tighter grind, nice crust
Cheese: Sharp cheddar
Vegetables: Pickle, grilled onion, tomato, lettuce
Sauce: Dill mayo
Bun: Soft sesame bun
Meat: Double patty, medium thin
Vegetables: Dill Pickle, shredded lettuce, onion
Sauce: Big Nick’s sauce
Meat: Single patty, rare-ish, juicy
Vegetables: Grilled onion
Bun: Poppy seed
Meat: Single medium thick patty
Vegetables: Shaved romaine, raw red onion
Sauce: Red relish, avocado mayo
34. Cibo: Best French Fry Accompaniment
Meat: Piedmontese grass-fed single patty AND parma prosciutto
Cheese: Cave-aged fontina
Bun: House made white
Bonus: TUSCAN FRIES, with whole garlic cloves, for the win
35. Dick’s Kitchen
Meat: All grass-fed, always, single patty
Cheese: Choices; I had the French Onion Soup Burger, so Swiss
Vegetables: Carmelized Onion
Sauce: Broth/Meat Juice
Meat: Big fat thick patty, juicy (Carman ranch grass fed beef)
Cheese: White Cheddar
Bun: Toasted hearth baked roll
37. Biwa (Closed)
Meat: Single patty AND crisped pork belly, togarashi seasoning
Vegetables: Spicy pickles, butter lettuce
Sauce: Special sauce
Bun: Toasted standard white
Meat: Thick, juicy, smaller patty
Cheese: White Cheddar
Vegetables: House pickled vegetables
Bun: Delicious ciabatta
39. Tasty & Sons (CLOSED)
Meat: Loose grind, single patty, juicy AND bacon
Cheese: Choice of Cheddar of Bleu Cheese
Vegetables: Pickle, shredded lettuce
Sauce: Special sauce
Bun: Fantastic potato bun
40. Swift & Union
Meat: Single patty, juicy
Cheese: Bleu (I ordered the Swift Burger)
Vegetables: Butter lettuce
Sauce: Bacon-Onion jam
Meat: Medium thick patty, 1/2 lb.
Vegetables: Fried onion rings, red cabbage slaw
Cheese: Queso botanero
Vegetables: Chiles, fried unions, pickled jalapenos
Bun: Toasted white
43. Ecliptic Brewing
Meat: Tighter grind, 1/2 lb. with pancetta
Vegetables: Arugula, red onion
Sauce: Russian dressing
44. Bar Bar
Meat: Thin soft single patty
Cheese: Varies (I had the Burger of the Month, the Yeezy, no cheese)
Vegetables: Pickled pepper, pickle and tomato
Sauce: Yellow mustard
Bun: Good old soft white
45. Le Pantry (CLOSED): Best Beauty Burger
Meat: Thick patty, juicy
Vegetables: Heirloom Tomato, Mesclun mix
Sauce: Chive and Chive-flower aioli
46. Stoopid Burger
(Many choices on the menu)
Meat: Thin patty, nice crust, add fried egg, bacon and ham
Sauce: Special sauce (classic)
47. Stumptown Sliders (CLOSED)
(Many choices on the menu)
Meat: Small slider patty, nice crust
Cheese: Cheddar, swiss, jack
Vegetables: You pick
Sauce: Classic to spicy variants
48. Angry Unicorn (CLOSED): The Donut Bun Burger
Meat: Single patty, well seasoned, nice crust
Cheese: Differs with Burger choice
Bun: GLAZED, GRIDDLED DONUT
49. PDX Sliders
(Many choices on the menu)
Meat: Single slider patty
Meat: Thick, juicy and crusty single patty
Vegetables: Shredded lettuce, shaved sweet onion, Kimchee relish
Sauce: Spicy Mayo
Finally, here’s a handy list of honorable mention burgers:
Boise Fry Company
Little Big Burger
Little Big Burger: For the smaller appetites, includes veggie option (Various locations).
Stacked Sandwich Shop
Tasty & Alder
Tasty & Alder: Sister to Tasty & Daughters; When you have time to wait (580 SW 12th Ave., Portland, OR 97205//(503) 621-9251). Photo courtesy of Tasty & Alder.
Killer Burger: King of the Peanut Butter Sauce Burger; Loud music, TVs and grass-fed burgers, always including bacon and fries (Various locations).
Burgerville: Dependable and tasty fast burgers and seasonal sides and shakes (Various locations).
Clyde Common Portland’s trendsetting tavern with communal tables and known for handcrafted cocktails & local fare. (1014 SW Stark St. Portland, OR 97205//(503) 228-3333)